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Firestone blown-out by IndyCar?

Bridgestone/Firestone’s American racing boss Al Speyer has expressed his disappointment to Motor Sport about strong rumours that IndyCar will switch to another tyre supplier in 2015 rather than agreeing to extend its contract to as far as 2020 as Firestone has proposed.

“We’ve heard something has been signed with another tyre company,” Speyer told us. “I don’t know that for a fact, but if that’s the case it really makes it uncertain of where we’re going and may preclude us. But I don’t have all the facts.

indycar  Firestone blown out by IndyCar?

“I want to stress that we want to extend our relationship with IndyCar. A couple of years ago we went through a period when we were trying to adjust our investment, but that’s all behind us. Right now, we want to very much continue. Since May of last year we’ve been telling IndyCar that we’d like to extend our relationship, which goes through 2014, through as far as 2020. We wanted to make a long term extension that would give both of us stability.

“But it’s not at all certain that we’ll get an extension. We’re very deeply concerned about that and there may be little more that we can do from our side. It does appear that IndyCar wants to go in another direction for tyres. That’s become clear to us. Even though we thought they wanted to extend with us, all of a sudden we learned that they want to go in a different direction. It’s clear to us the current IndyCar management is not interested in working with us.”

Speyer said Bridgestone/Firestone has confidence that IndyCar can rebuild its flagging crowds and television ratings. “We see upside potential to IndyCar,” Speyer emphasised. “We see some growth possibilities and we don’t want to do anything that devalues that. We want to continue to promote it to make it bigger for ourselves and IndyCar. It’s in our best interests to grow that. The sport has had its ups and downs over history and were hoping it can rise up again. The product is really good and we believe in it.”

Over the years Firestone has developed strong domestic TV and print media advertising campaigns featuring Indy car racing. Speyer said the company has plans to expand on that theme if IndyCar agreed to its proposed contract extension through 2020.

indycar  Firestone blown out by IndyCar?

“Firestone has been supporting Indy car racing for a hundred years,” Speyer remarked. “Harvey Firestone was there at the start and over the years Firestone has promoted the sport in the major national media of the times. The history makes it a natural for the Firestone brand. It’s a very good fit for the Firestone brand and we’ve done a lot of marketing and TV advertising. We’ve worked long and hard and poured a ton of blood, sweat and tears and money into the sport and to be told they want to do something else is hard to swallow.

“So it’s a sticky wicket right now. We want to stay. We’ve got certain rights and we want to stay. This new direction caught us by surprise. We had no idea it was coming.”

Speyer said the vast majority of drivers and teams have expressed to him their wish that Bridgestone/Firestone continue on a longterm basis as IndyCar’s tyre supplier. “We believe based on what we continue to hear that the drivers and owners would like to see us stay. There certainly is no undercurrent of people wanting to kick us out. They want us to stay very much. We’ve got the support of the drivers and teams. Even some of the fans are behind us. We don’t feel like we’ve done anything wrong.

“We’re very proud of the relationship we have with 99 per cent of the IndyCar community and the support from the team owners and drivers is just outstanding. They very much support us and want us to continue and that makes it almost doubly hard to swallow. They have been unbelievable in their support of us and we think it’s an earned position.”

Michael Andretti’s team won its fourth IndyCar championship and first with Ryan Hunter-Reay this year. Andretti hopes to field four cars in next year’s IndyCar series plus a fifth car at Indianapolis. Michael said he hopes IndyCar will see the light and extend its agreement with Firestone.

indycar  Firestone blown out by IndyCar?

“Firestone has been such a great supporter of IndyCar racing,” Andretti said. “I don’t know all the facts but it sounds like they’re not being treated like the way they should be treated. It’s a little disappointing. The biggest thing with Firestone is you know you have a safe product. Tyres are really important, especially on the superspeedways so it’s not a lottery where you know one or two tyres are going to blow up. With Firestone, you don’t have that worry and that really puts your mind at ease as a driver and a team owner.

“That’s the biggest thing Firestone brings to the table and they’ve done a fantastic job that way. If IndyCar is getting somebody else I’m just hoping that it’s going to be a quality product. If not, it could be disastrous. It could be very expensive and very dangerous. We don’t want our talent getting hurt.”

On Monday morning we asked IndyCar’s CEO Randy Bernard for his view of this matter, but by the end of the day he had not replied to our request for a comment.

Add your comments

16 comments on Firestone blown-out by IndyCar?

  1. Ian Taylor, 25 September 2012 12:02

    Just when Indy car was starting on the long road back to where it once was, they make a change that could be a disater.
    The drivers have felt safe with their firehawks, the two compounds have created another element that added to the race and I do not believe we have had a tire failurein a long time.
    Two steps forward and one step back, I do hope that Firestone are around for many years and this latest rumor is put to bed.

  2. Paul Webb, 25 September 2012 14:46

    In the long history of Indy Car mismanagement, this would be the stupidest decision yet. Firestone has been the most significant single sponsor/manufacturer to ever be involved with the sport, not to mention their loyalty to the sport, despite the politics. Firestone is the best corporate partner Indy Car racing has ever had, if it is true that they are being blown out, this will provide a potentially unsafe situation for the drivers, which should be anyone’s first concern. Hopefully Indy Car will come to their senses and re-uo with Firestone as soon as possible, anything else would be an outrage.

  3. Mike Oxlong, 25 September 2012 14:58

    Randy Bernard is a failure. Send him packing.

  4. Joe Freeman, 25 September 2012 15:09

    My God, GK, what else can they screw up?

  5. Mark Holden, 25 September 2012 17:51

    Of course Firestone wants to continue. The teams are now paying for their tyres and for them they are getting good exposure and actually getting paid for the advertising. At worst, they’re breaking even. If another manufacture wants to actually sponsor the series, can anyone blame IndyCar? If Firestone wants to actually stay, they will need to match the competition on the support basis, as they have in years past.

  6. Billy, 25 September 2012 18:05

    People who left comments certainly do not have a clue on what is going on. Until this past year Firestone supplied tires at a discounted rate and used heavy marketing to promote their tires and the series. The pulled back on most the marketing, and teams now pay more for the tires (and were willing to do so for the short term). It was common knowledge that Indycar was looking for a partner with terms similar to what they had in 2011 and past years.

    If another tire company hase come in with a markting plan that reduces the cost to the teams, and increases the marketing of the series, than that is a positive. Given that this could take place in 2015, gives any new tire company two years to get things sorted. There are two test cars available, and this should have no impact on the racing.

  7. Steve, 25 September 2012 18:46

    You have got to be kidding me. This sounds like a huge mistake if true.

  8. Ben, 25 September 2012 18:58

    Firestone is not the only company that knows how to build safe oval tires. Hoosier is plenty capable of supplying any new tire partner with oval racing tires that don’t fall apart.

    Furthermore, Bridgestone was going to shutter their IndyCar operation and lay people off before INDYCAR agreed to pay twice as much for tires, so any new supplier will have “the pick of the litter” when Firestone’s INDYCAR operation shuts down.

    Need to hire some talent? Not a problem… the new company’s mailbox will be overflowing with Résumés.

    Firestone threw their weight around, and got major concessions from INDYCAR, but now the shoe is on the other foot. Looks like they overplayed their hand.

  9. Frank Butcher, 26 September 2012 05:08

    As long as they don’t go the F1 way with disintegrating, gimmicky tires it should be fine.

  10. nayls, 26 September 2012 15:04

    Firestone must STAY!! Rodeo Randy screws up something else. Putz

    Life Begins At 220mph

  11. Ray T, 26 September 2012 15:05

    Randy Bernard’s previous career was in promoting cowboy rodeos. True.

  12. Stephen Terrell, 26 September 2012 17:23

    IFirestone was ready to leave IndyCar hanging without a tire deal for 2012 jeopardizing the entire series. It’s like a boy dumping his girlfriend just before the big dance, then finally agreeing to take her. She may go, but don’t blame her if she’s leery when he asks her to go steady again.

    Firestone has provided great tires for the variety of circuits run by Indycar – high-speed ovals, short ovals, road courses and street circuits. But there is some resentment and lack of trust that developed over that episode. But its going to take time to rebuild that relationship

  13. Gordon Kirby, 26 September 2012 18:48

    To follow up, reliable sources have confirmed that Continental is the rival tyre company Randy Bernard has been talking to. Meanwhile, in response to our story IndyCar issued the following statement on Tuesday:

    “While IndyCar generally does not comment on the specifics of ongoing negotiations, IndyCar is always exploring what’s best for the sport for both the short and long term,” he said. “It is the series’ goal to have partners that will provide safe, reliable and high-performance products that are designed to meet and exceed the on-track demands of our sport while creating a platform to leverage and grow the sport through aggressive activation.

    “Because the current contract with Firestone to supply tires for the IZOD IndyCar Series will expire following the 2014 race season, IndyCar has been seeking and continues to seek a tire partnership for 2015 and beyond. As the current and historical tire supplier, Firestone has been and continues to be a part of the consideration.”

  14. wayne wachtell, 26 September 2012 18:49

    do you ever think that bernard is getting advice from tony george and that they have late night phone conversations !

  15. Frank Butcher, 27 September 2012 14:39

    This is the same Bridgestone that tried to dump Indycars a few years ago; now they appear to be negotiating in the media for a new deal. So instead of bashing Randy, who has done very well so far, why not wait and see?

  16. N. Weingart, 27 September 2012 17:11

    In my opinion Firestone has degraded the sport through the nonsensical gimmick of using multiple compound tires in a race. This has spread to F1 and has contributed to the transformation of one of the best sports in the world into just another ‘entertainment”. I just hope that the next supplier to IndyCar will confine the marketing concepts to the media and opt-out of the engineering of the racers.

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